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Saturday, April 18, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Side Car

This is one of the classic, old-time cocktails like the martini or a Tom Collins. Made in the classic style, it's also only 154 calories so you can enjoy it without too much guilt. With only three ingredients, it's also a breeze to make.

Watch the Video!

INGREDIENTS (for two drinks):
3 oz. brandy or cognac
2 oz. grand marnier or triple sec
1 oz. lemon juice, fresh squeezed if available

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice. Shake and strain into two cocktail glasses.





Enjoy!

-Darryl

Friday, April 17, 2015

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 1


It maybe located between some of the most populated areas in the United States but the roads to get into it are so tough that this remains an oasis of old, undeveloped Southern California. Being that a great majority of it is also a protected state park might also have something to do with that.

It's been six years but we're returning to Borrego Springs, the little village located in the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California.


Watch the Video!

From our area, there's no easy way to get here. It's either going through the backroads of San Diego County or going through Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and then a very poorly maintained road for the last 25 miles, which is the way we came in.

Once in, however, you take a step back fifty years to a California desert resort the way is used to be. A sleepy little downtown, yet even the most modest motel has a sparkling pool. Eccentric characters that gather at the town's lone watering hole each night. Spectacular golf courses, tennis courts, quirky art, and some beautiful and very unspoiled desert.



As always in Borrego Springs, our lodgings are the Borrego Springs Resort, about a mile south of the town's traffic circle (traffic signals are outlawed here...mayors must take an oath of office that includes never bringing one of those devices into the town).

It's a large, two-room suite with a patio looking west toward the large mountains separating the desert from the Indian lands dotting eastern San Diego County with their casinos and missions.


After the long and a bit grueling drive, we're just in relaxing mode for today. A Mercedes Benz owner's group is here having a meeting and rally. We admire the Mercs but are more impressed by the old Packards that are in with the group.

We head over to the bar at Arches, the resort's restaurant, to have a couple of drinks before heading out to take a walk through the golf course.



While here, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for us this weekend...migratory birds relaxing on the greens while the car owners golf through the course in one big group of about twenty golfers. Cacti blooming in spectacular purples, oranges, and pinks.

Back in town, we head to Carlee's, the dive bar that serves the tastiest food around, to have a bite to eat and to chat with the evening's entertainment. The singer shows Tim the difference between a 12 string and a 6 string guitar.  Later, while leaving, we get an impromtu performance of 'Ring of Fire' in the parking lot while they take a smoke break.



We head back to the room where my wife and I star gaze from the patio while Tim relaxes with ESPN on the couch.

Tonight, it's rest. Tomorrow, we head out to the desert to explore.

We'll continue with you then.





Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: The Tamale Peddler


The other day, we were in a waiting room for a doctor's appointment for Tim. A Mexican man came in and talked to the receptionist.  My wife looked over to me and whispered, conspiratorially, "He's selling tamales..."

Tamales are one of those wonderful Hispanic foods. It seems every Latin American country has their own version...Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Guatemalan, and on and on. Some are wrapped in banana leaves and many different varieties of fillings are used.

I'm a Mexican style fan, with the corn meal masa cuddling a meaty filling of pork or beef (preferrably pork), chicken, green chile and cheese...even pineapple and raisins. This is wrapped in corn husks while many are additionally encompassed in paper then steamed.

Here in Southern California, you can get them almost anywhere. Every Mexican restaurant sells them, you can get them in many supermarkets...ready made or available to take home and steam. They even sell canned tamales.



Some are good, most Mexican restaurants can at least make a passable tamale and a few excel at them. Some are not good at all...see the canned tamales above. If you see a tube of tamales labeled in letters coded to say it's "excellente," keep walking. 

The best, however, are made by little teams of underground entrepreneurs. Getting together at someone's house and assembling these treats of soft, moist, filled masa, they gather up piles and piles of the delicious little packets and roam out looking for a sale.



Sometimes at work, you'll find someone who's mom makes them and you can send an order in.  We'll exit our church after mass and, once in awhile, there'll be a couple of ladies with a bucket for sale or, as it was today, someone will go office to office delivering a delicious and cheap lunch.

Yes, my friends, it's also cheap. While I've had mediocre tamales at farmers market costing $6.50 a piece, good ones at our favorite Mexican restaurant and cantina for $3.75...it's these home-made beauties that are the best, tastiest you can find and they're usually dirt cheap. 

Back at the doctor's waiting room, after my wife asks what varieties he has, I ask how much. $1.50 each or $17 a dozen.




I get 6 red pork and 6 chile and cheese tamales, conveniently wrapped in a plastic bag, slip him $17, and put the haul in the car for later.

With an afterglow of delicious tamale dinner memories in my tummy (the tamales we bought are pictured at the top of this post), I write these words to you after our latest adventure. As good as it gets.



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 6, 2015

Solvang...the Bonus Reel



Here are some parts of our Solvang trip that didn’t make the final cut but are still worthy…

Taking a little break to see the view from our second floor window, I look down into the side street and see a little shop. Out of the way, off the main tourist trail, it’s Valley Brewers.


I run downstairs, cross over, and check out this little shop of homebrew, home wine, and home cheesemaking supplies. One of the owners is inside. Chris shows us around, takes us downstairs where the real treasures are, and asks if we’ve ever brewed.

“Three batches,” I tell him. I also tell him about my latest attempt at a Belgian Dubbel which, although tasty, came out a bit flat.

Chris explains how to get the priming sugars just right, the importance of splashing oxygen in during the pour into the fermentation tank, and slowly letting the temperature rise a bit after bottling to get that all-important carbonation.

He also tells me that he has a killer Belgian ale recipe that he makes up for me for around $40. I should be able to get 48 bottles out of it once it’s brewed.

Now, I’ve got my favorite souvenir and found a great new place away from the overpriced wine tastings and mediocre pastries of downtown Solvang. I get to go home happy.


When we first got to Solvang, we made our way to NojoquiFalls for a hike. On the way over to the falls, we passed an idyllic looking farm. On our way home, I made our way back before hitting the freeway.


It’s Classic Organic farm, a green, grass-covered hillside with frolicking goats and mouse-hunting cats.


In the old wooden barn, baskets of apples, lettuce, onions, citrus and more await. A lazy cat sits atop the barrel where an honor-system slot and a tray of change sit for customers to deposit their money and make their own change.


We get some fruit and vegetables, eat some apples, and make friends with the goats.

It’s a great place for a quick and impromptu picnic before heading home.


Darryl
Copyright 2013 – All Rights Reserved
Darryl Musick

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mission: Accomplished! Solvang, California - Part 3


Morning dawns in our basic, little room at the top of the dark stairs. We're hungry and we're in a town know for it's great breakfasts.



Two or three bakeries line each block. Abelskivers, little round pancake balls, are a popular specialty here but we're going traditional at Paula's Pancake House, just a couple of doors down from the hotel.



Finally, great good with matching service, Letty and I feast on the giant-but-thin Dutch pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage. It's a filling and delicious meal accompanied by orange juice squeezed right before our eyes.



Tummies full, we take a drive over to nearby Santa Ynez and check out the old inn in the cute downtown. Lovely hotel and maybe a contender if we ever have another romantic getaway up here...but those are as rare as Halley's Comet at this point in our lives.

We do notice that the inn is accessible, however, so maybe a family trip might be in order?  Who knows.



Back in Solvang, we see the troops of greyhounds, and their owners, from Greyhound Fest parading east to the edge of town. We drive over and meet them on the ground of Mision Santa Ines.



In addition to being the Dutch capitol of California, Solvang is also an historic mission town with the two-and-a-half century old mission. Mass has just ended and Father Gerald Barron introduces himself to us and invites us inside to have a look around in his Irish brogue.



We get to see the basic wooden altar and the old painted walls. Back in the old days, Native Americans would stand for the entire service. Modern parishioners can use the pews.



Outside, we see the old mission reservoir next to our parking space.

At the edge is one of the prettiest views of the Santa Ynez Valley stretching out from the mission's grounds (the picture at the top).  



Letty and I pause for one last picture before packing it in and driving back home on the 101 along the central coastline.


 


Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: California's Motherlode


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's California's historic Gold Rush country...


Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park - Mostly Accessible. In the little town of Coloma, James Marshall discovered gold along the American River while working for John Sutter. This is where it all began. You can check out John Sutter's replica sawmill and stroll over to where Marshall found the gold. The last eight feet or so is a steep, sandy slope so you can get close but not quite all the way.


Pan for Gold - Fully Accessible. Mine tours are pretty much out for wheelchair users but many operators have accessible sluices where a wheelchair user can pan for their own gold. Pan for Gold operators


Hiking - Fully Accessible. The Independence Trail near Nevada City offers miles of wheelchair accessible hiking through what used to be water flumes used by Gold Rush miners. Independence Trail


Wine Tasting - Fully Accessible. The new fortunes being made up here are not via a rock in the ground but a berry on a vine. Outstanding heavy reds like Barbera, Temperanillo, and Zinfandel are what's up in them 'thar hills today. Many small wineries in the area still offer free wine tasting, too, especially in Amador County. Try Story, Sobon, Shenandoah for starters and hit Amador 360 where $5 (applicable towards purchase) gets you tastes of many more in one location.



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 30, 2015

Making the Best of a Bad Situation - Solvang, California - Part 2


 



Click to see Part 1 of this report...
 

“This reservation is for March.”

Not what I want to hear while standing in the lobby of the Royal Copenhagen Inn in February on a busy Solvang weekend. It is my fault, though.  I didn’t thoroughly check my reservation as I tell all of you to do. I was certain it said February 23 but it was there in black and white on the printout…March 23.

It’s a rare weekend getaway without Tim for Letty and I. Getting someone to stay with him is not easy to arrange. There are less than a handful of people who can do it and last minute family problems meant we really had to work some magic to get it to happen. Timing it so our replacement caregivers would have to do the minimum of lifting, getting the workings of the van and lift down (which would prove a little balky as we spent many times on the phone trying to talk them through the operation), and making sure enough provisions and money were provided for them to get by over the weekend.


Now, we’re finally away and my boneheaded mistake finds us here with no place to sleep for the night.

“I have one room left,” the desk clerk says. “It has two queen beds.”

It’s not the two-level, romantic, loft suite I’d reserved for March, but it’ll have to do. We cancel the March reservation, take the basic room, and sign on the dotted line.

“You’ll have to find something else to do until two o’clock while we clean the room. You’re welcome to leave your car here in the meantime.”

OK, beggars can’t be choosers. I may have found another room in town if I’d looked but we’re on a tight schedule here. In the meantime, we’ll explore this kitschy little town.

About an eight square blocks of shops, restaurants, wine bars, and bakeries make up the heart of town.  Easily walkable from the hotel, every square inch of the downtown area is no more than a five minute walk.

Some shops are high end and high quality. The extra large wooden clog marks the entrance of the Solvang Shoe Store where a large inventory of superior footwear is sold for not too expensive prices.

You have to wonder what you’ve wandered into such as the outlet store we found behind a fake windmill, underneath a western wear museum where clothing went for under ten dollars.


After sampling some great fudge at a bakery on Alisal Road, my wife spends some time browsing among the yarn at a knitting store nearby. Kids are in awe of the great European toys available in a number of great toy shops. We grab some freshly baked pretzels and sample butter cookies at another bakery.

Every other shop seems to be a winery tasting room. We are in the Santa Ynez Valley, one of the state’s more well-known wine areas thanks to the movie “Sideways.” It’s not cheap, though. Most of the tasting rooms charge north of $10 for tiny tasting sips and are not willing to apply that to your purchase…although one said they’d knock $5 off of the $16 tasting fee if we didn’t want to take the logo glasses home.

Better yet, just go to one of the several wine bars or cocktail lounges and buy a whole glass for less than the price of the taste.




Greyhounds are everywhere. Groups of the dogs are walking on leash throughout the town. We’d seen more earlier during our hike up to Nojoqui Falls. We’re thinking they really love their greyhounds here in Solvang until we go back to the inn to claim our room…a sign in the lobby says “Welcome to Greyhound Fest ’13!”

Each year the dogs and their owners gather in town for a sort of greyhound convention. This is the weekend and the town is crawling with these gentle, race bred hounds.  I can’t turn around without some pooch sticking his nose at me and wanting a scratch under his neck.  They’re great dogs, well behaved, quiet, and their owners are picking up after them, keeping things clean.

The last room of the inn is up a dark set of stairs in a corner of the hotel. Our room is the only one up there and has no other room on any side. At least it will be quiet.

The room itself is a basic, no frills motel room with two queen beds, a couple of balky windows overlooking a side street, a bathroom with a shower and a toilet that won’t flush. (Wheelchair rooms are available here but we didn't need one this trip...plus I made a big booking error)

The chain is broken on the flushing mechanism. I’m about to call the front desk but Letty has already Momgyvered a safety pin fix for the chain and all is working.

The hotel has wifi but the signal doesn’t reach this far corner and we’re out of luck for an Internet connection.  They do serve a decent breakfast with goodies from a nearby bakery (there’s always a nearby bakery here in Solvang) and have a nice pool area.



For dinner, we head to Solvang Brewing Company, a few doors west of the hotel. It’s busy and a sign says to seat ourselves and to let a server know. We do but the server seems to forget. After sitting for several minutes at a table waiting for menus, we give that up to sit at the bar where we get immediate attention from the bartender.


We split a sausage platter and a cheeseburger. Both are delicious as is the house-brewed beer. Decent prices but weird service at the tables.

A bottle of wine from Presidio Winery, across from the hotel, a couple of glasses, and we’ll retire for the night.

We’ll end this in the morning…

Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Cocktail Hour - Daiquiri

Watch the Video!

Hemingway's favorite drink.  Originated in Cuba and named after Playa Daiquiri near Santiago.  Although popularized by the El Foridita Bar in Havana, it was invented at Venus Bar in Santiago by Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer.  Supposedly, the bar ran out of gin but had a lot of rums, limes, and sugar...three things that are in abundance in Cuba.



Besides Hemingway, the drink became popular during World War II as rum was one of the few commodities that was not rationed.  This week, we present it in it's historical incarnation.  It's not blended, flavored in any extra way, and served just as Ernie would have had it.


In the video, we cheated just a little by using coconut infused rum for extra flavor and putting the finished product in an old fashioned glass on the rocks.  The coconut rum was used because I'd tried the recipe before and never got it right...I was intimidated.  The glass was because Tim can't use a cocktail glass.

Be assured, however, that after filming we did try the original recipe with cocktail glasses and it came out fantastic. That recipe is the one on this page.  Turns out the key is to not be shy with the lime juice.  Enjoy!

DAIQUIRI (two drinks)
3 ounces white rum
2 ounces simple syrup
3 key limes

Fill a cocktail shaker half full with crushed ice.  Cut the limes in half.  Squeeze the juice of all the limes into the shaker.  Put the rum and simple syrup in the shaker.  Cover and shake.  Strain into two cocktail glasses.



Cheers,
-Darryl and Tim
Daiquiri photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Aaron Gustafon under CC-BY-SA license

Friday, March 27, 2015

Meeting Murphy's Law in Solvang, California



It’s like something out of Tolkien. Shady, moss covered rocks protect a meandering stream. Large fonds of ferns fill in the empty spaces between the sycamores and oaks. A narrow canyon opens up into a sylvan glen. Sixty feet up, a stream of water cascades over a green, moss covered, mineral buildup that took millions of years to form.

Middle Earth? No, Central California.


This is the opening act to our weekend away. It’s our anniversary and we’ve just been able to find some help to take care of Tim so Letty and I can have an overnight respite. This year, we’re heading to Solvang, about 50 miles north of Santa Barbara.

Watch the Video!

Hike with us to Nojoqui Falls!

It’s a little over two hours to get here on a Saturday morning with no traffic. Before we head into the town proper, we pull off to investigate a sign that has intrigued me every time I’ve taken the drive north on Highway 101…Nojoqui Falls Park.

Since we usually have a wheelchair with us, hiking up to see a waterfall is usually off-limits so I take the opportunity when I can. It’s just Letty and me this trip so off we go.


From the parking lot, it’s a 1/3 mile hike through the narrow canyon to the falls. If you’re an adventurous wheelchair user, you could get 2/3 of the way before you hit a set of stairs that would block further progress.


This waterfall is different in that it doesn’t erode the cliff. Instead, minerals in the water build up over time, pushing the water out from the hill instead of the water pushing in, resulting in a bulbous mound of rock, similar to a stalagmite in a cave.

A few minutes to admire the cascade, really a little more than a trickle this time of year, and then back down. Up and back in less than 30 minutes.

We continue on Alisal Road, which is a backroad way into Solvang. It’s narrow, the pavement’s worn, and our phones won’t work out here but the scenery is beautiful, serene with green rolling hills dotted with horses and cows.

The exclusive and expensive Alisal Ranch and golf course tells us we’re about to get into town. The chirp on my cell phone confirms it.


Danish style buildings, a windmill, and throngs of tourists clogging the street welcome us to the Danish capitol of California. Gingerly, I thread the car through to Mission Drive, the highway that runs through town, and turn left to find our hotel, the Royal Copenhagen Inn.

A full parking lot and packs of greyhounds greet us at the hotel. We go into the office and ask if we can park there until checkin time.

“What’s the last name?”

“Musick.”

“Don’t see it.”
I pull out my e-mail confirmation and hand it to her.

“You have a reservation but it’s not for today, it’s for a month from today.”

Taking the printout back, I check it again. The date is March 23rd…not February 23rd as I had been absolutely sure it had said when I checked it twice.

What now?


Darryl

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Monaco


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's Monaco...



The Casino - Fully accessible. Accessible entrance it to the side of the main entrance. Long pants, dress shirt, and jacket required to enter. Entrance fee charged.



Royal Palace Square - Fully accessible. Get to the top from the Place 'd Arms by taking the accessible bus. Get there before 11am if you want to see the changing of the guard.



Royal Neighborhood - Mostly accessible. The hilltop area around the palace has a lot a great shops, restaurants, and little alleyways to explore as well as the country's aquarium.

Monaco (the entire country) - Mostly accessible. The entire country gets an entry because it is so small. You could walk across the entire country in an hour or take 5-10 minutes in a bus. It's very hilly but a network of elevators and accessible buses gets you to anywhere you want to go.




Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved